Politics: The rise of extremism

Are politicians of paying too much attention to the fringe elements of their parties?

With President Obama’s poll numbers slipping, the GOP should be enjoying a political resurgence right about now. “There’s just one problem: The country still doesn’t like Republicans,” said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. Polls find that only 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, and the reason is clear. Without a positive agenda of its own, the Right “is being defined by extremist voices”—from the “birthers” who insist Obama was born on foreign soil to “race-baiting” media bloviators like Glenn Beck of Fox News, who recently proclaimed that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Most Americans now see the Republicans as “a right-wing, Southern regional party” hostile to minorities, immigrants, women, city dwellers, and gays. America has always had its share of “loons,” said Leonard Pitts in The Miami Herald. “For Republicans, though, lunacy has become the show, a circus of extremism that now defines them.”

Actually, said David Paul Kuhn in Realclearpolitics.com, political extremism is a bipartisan disease. It’s true that a recent poll found that fully 28 percent of Republicans “believe that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.” But in 2007, another poll found that 35 percent of Democrats subscribed to the nutty theory that President Bush knew the U.S. was going to be attacked on 9/11. Neither party, it seems, “can wholly disavow their fanatical fringe,” for the simple reason that there are too many of these wackos, and politicians need the votes. Meanwhile, as the “fanatical fringe” on both sides of the spectrum segregate themselves with like-minded ideologues on the Web, and on Fox and MSNBC, they find the other side ever more alien and sinister. From this mutual incomprehension, outlandish conspiracy theories are born.

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